Sunday, October 09, 2016


Before he heads out the door, President Obama is pushing a few of his pet initiatives, with little regard for their long-term impact on the nation.

Let's begin with global warming, climate change or whatever catch-phrase is now being used to perpetuate that hoax.  As the Washington Times recently reported, Mr. Obama is claiming that rising temperatures (and sea levels) will trigger new waves of massive migration, creating problems far beyond those now being experienced in the Middle East and Europe.

Never mind that the "science" behind climate change has been notoriously politicized--and global temperatures haven't risen a single degree over the past 18 years; President Obama has never been one to let the facts stand in the way of a convenient narrative.  Just the other day, he suggested that droughts (brought on, of course, by global warming) were one of the factors that caused the Syrian civil war.  So. stop blaming Bashir Assad; those barrel bombs being dropped on civilians in Aleppo are a by-product of climate change, and not the repressive tactics of a brutal dictator.

Mr. Obama has also jumped back on the diversity bandwagon.  On Wednesday, the President directed national security agencies to "strengthen the talent and diversity of their organizations."  More from the Washington Post:

National security agencies “are less diverse on average than the rest of the Federal Government,” including at the senior leadership levels, Obama said in the memorandum. “While these data do not necessarily indicate the existence of barriers to equal employment opportunity, we can do more to promote diversity in the national security workforce.”

Obama told the agencies to take a series of steps to improve diversity, including collecting, analyzing and disseminating workforce data, providing professional development opportunities and strengthening leadership accountability. He said his directive “emphasizes a data-driven approach in order to increase transparency and accountability at all levels.”

In other words, agencies like the CIA, NSA, DIA, the State Department--and others--need to hire more minorities.  Decades of affirmative action programs, specialized recruiting efforts and other initiatives have failed to place enough individuals of color in the senior ranks of the military, the diplomatic corps and the intelligence community.  

National Security Adviser Susan Rice (of Benghazi infamy) is the administration's point-person for the diversity push.  In recent remarks, she described the need to recruit and promote more blacks, Latinos and Asians as a "national security imperative."  Dr. Rice expressed disappointment that people of color represent about 40% of the nation's population, but only 15-20% of the nation's senior diplomats, military officers and intelligence officials.  So, it's a safe bet that a candidate's race will play an even more important role in future hiring and promotion decisions. 

And not surprisingly, the military is rushing to re-embrace diversity as well.  Last Friday, the Air Force released a memo--signed by service secretary Deborah James; chief of staff General David Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody--outlining 13 new "inclusion" initiatives.  According to Air Force magazine, the new mandates include diversity requirements for certain promotion candidate pools; membership on command selection boards and panels considering airmen for recruiting duty. Additionally, the Air Force will create a new "human capital analytics office," which will use microtargeting capabilities to better attract and retain talent.

But the diversity push doesn't end there.  Air Force ROTC will receive an extra $20 million over the next five years to fund 200 new scholarships for students from "under-served and under-represented population centers.  One of the primary goals is to increase minority representation in career fields that have historically "lacked diversity," including pilot, air battle manager, missile and space operations and intelligence.  Leaders in those fields have been tasked to submit plans to reverse those trends.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with getting more minorities into the cockpit, behind a radar console, or as part of a missile or space operations crew.  But certain words are often missing from such discussions, including "standards" and "qualifications."  When the military needs more bodies, there is often a temptation to lower standards; it happened at the height of the Iraq War, when the Army was struggling to meet recruiting quotas.  Minimum scores were lowered on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), and standards were relaxed in other areas as well, to get enough recruits into uniform.

Recruiting someone to be a pilot or intelligence officer is a different matter, but many of the same issues persist.  In the rush to get more people with the "right" background into selected AFSCs, there is tendency to relax requirements.  Minority applicants with lower scores on the Armed Forces Officer Qualification Test (AFOQT) may be admitted, in hopes of achieving diversity goals.

To be fair, there have been no reports (yet) about a serious erosion of standards among candidates who will be recruiting for those new ROTC scholarships.   But such slippage has occurred during the past.  During the mid-1990s, your humble correspondent was an Air Force ROTC instructor at an SEC school.  One of our "sister" detachments was at a historically black college and university, about 75 miles away. We met with the instructor cadre from the other school on a periodic basis, to share best practices and lessons learned.

At the same time, the USAF was in the middle of another diversity push, trying to send a minimum number of minority candidates to pilot and navigator training each year.  I remember asked the commander of our sister detachment about his thoughts on the efforts.  His answer was shorting and stunning: "it's a dumb idea," he told me, and "doomed to fail."

As the Lieutenant Colonel recounted, his detachment had sent an average of two cadets a year to pilot and navigator training during the previous four years, a period that predated his arrival at the school. Most of the cadets were African-American, though some were white, students at a third school who completed ROTC at the HBCU.

From the Colonel's perspective, most of those young people heading to UPT and UNT were doomed to fail, and it had nothing to do with their skin color.  But it had everything to do with their educational background and preparation for pilot and nav training.  Virtually all of the young officers had graduated from high school in the state--a state with notoriously poor public schools.  Many had struggled to complete their undergraduate studies, but they met the requirements for ROTC and earned their commissions.  And with the diversity push of that era, one or two headed off each year to pilot or navigator training, among the most demanding training courses in the Air Force.

According to the commander, not a single lieutenant from his detachment had completed UPT or UNT during the previously-cited four-year period.  Most of the pilot candidates washed out during the first half of UPT (a year-old program); roughly half were retained by the Air Force and trained in a different career field.  The rest were discharged, after hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent on their training.  According to the detachment commander, most of the selectees from his school were marginal candidates, with AFOQT scores that were borderline for pilot and navigator.  Obviously, the test results weren't the only predictor of potential success, but they were a useful barometer.

The Air Force persisted in its effort for a few more years, but the number of minority pilots, navigators, missileers and intel officers remained relatively low.  The detachment commander who warned about marginally-qualified candidates being thrown into the fire at UPT and UNT suggested better screening of candidates, with additional funds to help them complete ground school and earn some "stick time" towards a private pilot's license, since Air Force data shows that applicants with flight experience tend to do better in undergraduate pilot or navigator training.  His idea was rejected due to the projected cost and the perceptions that the service would be giving minority applicants an unfair advantage.

Fast forward 20 years, and the USAF appears to be back as square one.  So far, the Air Force hasn't offered any details on how it plans to meet its diversity goals, but the effort is getting off on the wrong foot.  Consider those 200 additional ROTC scholarships.  What service leaders fail to mention is that minority applicants who meet requirements for those awards are typically bombarded with scholarship offers from top schools--with no requirement for military service.  And, for a student accepting a four-year ROTC scholarship out of high school, there is no military commitment until the end of their sophomore year.  Not surprisingly, many quit the program before their service obligation begins, getting two free years of college on the taxpayers' dime.  For those who remain, the overall washout rate for the four-year scholarship program is 70%, since many can't handle the rigors of an engineering curriculum (ROTC schollys are heavily weighted towards engineering and the hard sciences).  

So, the Air Force faces a tough choice: lower academic standards (and hope some of those students make it to the cockpit, an intel billet or cyber unit, regardless of race, sexual preference or gender), or try to convince more highly-qualified minority applicants to become USAF officers.  But the odds of success for either option are decidedly slim.  It's quite likely that the Air Force secretary and chief of staff will face the same "diversity" issue in 2025 that they're facing in 2016 (and previously confronted in the 1990s).  And did we mention that the percentage of young Americans who qualify for military service is decreasing, even among those who might be competitive for a commissioning program? 

Ironically, there are more viable options for increasing diversity in the Air Force officer corps, but (so far the service hasn't shown much interest in them.  We refer to those "13-week wonders" who earn their commission through Officer Training School, the USAF version of OCS in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.  There are thousands of minority NCOs who have earned their college degree on active duty and are candidates for OTS, but most will never earn a slot in the program for various reasons.

First, there's the academic factor.  As noted previously, the Air Force has always had a preference for officers with degrees in engineering, mathematics, computer sciences, physics and similar disciplines.  Many of the NCOs who complete their bachelor's while on active duty major in business, liberal arts or other subjects that are available on-line, or through classes at the base education center.  Of course, there is a certain irony in the service's preference for technical degrees.  While no one doubts the rigor associated with an engineering, math or IT curriculum, completion of those degrees is no guarantee of success in pilot training, as a missileer, or as an intel officer.

Age can also pose a barrier.  Candidates for OTS must be commissioned by their 35th birthday, allowing them to complete 20 years of service by their 55th birthday.  And, individuals who want to be pilots must enter flight training by the age of 30.  Unfortunately, by the time most NCOs finish their degrees, they are at (or past) that age limit.  And here's the ultimate irony: Air Force OTS only commissions about 500 officers a year (roughly one-sixth of the production rate during the Reagan era) and half of the current slots are reserved for civilian applicants.  So, it's very difficult for active-duty NCOs--from the groups the USAF is targeting--to trade their stripes for a second lieutenant's bars.  Never mind that these individuals already have outstanding service records, and are more likely to make the military a career.  The existence of these obstacles make little sense if the service is truly committed to "diversity."

Expanding the OTS pool would also address issues about experience and competence among junior officers, particularly if the service selects airmen and NCOs from high-demand career fields to serve in officer positions in those same vocations.  Obviously, that won't work for pilot (the USAF only recently approved the training of enlisted drone pilots), but the enlisted-to-officer pipeline works very well in the intel career field and air battle manager, where enlisted surveillance technicians can easily make the transition to surveillance officers and weapons directors.  The Air Force would also do well to consider other possible solutions, such as a reintroduction of the warrant officer ranks, and following the lead of other services in creating limited duty officers, who provide exceptional technical expertise in various career fields.

Unfortunately, those concerns often become secondary when service secretaries, agency heads and general officers sign on for the latest diversity gambit.  The fanfare associated with the launch of such initiatives is rarely followed by the same level of enthusiasm in measuring the success (or failure) of the current scheme to increase minority representation in critical career fields.  However, there is a silver lining for members of those groups who enter the service and make it a career.  Under the new promotion systems being developed, a select number will be virtually guaranteed command slots.  That will make this latest initiative less of a outreach effort and more of a quota system.  Not that anyone at the White House or the Pentagon really cares.        


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